Aurora, William Gottlieb under fire for Gansevoort redevelopment poll

Advocacy groups say survey was a sham

A rendering of 46-74 Gansevoort Street and a stock image of a call center worker
A rendering of 46-74 Gansevoort Street and a stock image of a call center worker

A public opinion poll about the controversial plans to redevelop Gansevoort Row isn’t, well, public.

The phone survey, commissioned by developers Aurora Capital and William Gottleib Real Estate, showed that 58 percent of Lower West Side residents support their plans to redevelop 46-74 Gansevoort Street into a commercial hub with nearly 111,000 square feet of space. But the survey asked leading questions that tried to push respondents toward a pro-development stance, many of them said. The developers have refused to release the questions and answers that led to these results, citing that the information was “proprietary.”

The survey was conducted from Jan. 11 to Jan. 13, and included 300 residents who live in a large area surrounding the Meatpacking District, bounded by Charleston Street, West 25th Street, Sixth Avenue and the Hudson River. Of those polled, 14 percent opposed the project and 28 percent said they were unsure of their opinion.

The survey wasn’t initially intended to be public, a source close to the developers said, but the results were released after opposition groups began to speak out against the poll to various publications. Save Gansevoort alleges that the survey was in effect a push poll that asked leading questions in favor of the commercial redevelopment.

One resident, who’s Lived On West 12th Street since 1982, told The Real Deal that one question presented the issue in extremes, asking if he’d prefer decrepit buildings or ones that honored the historical significance of the neighborhood. Another resident, Ruth Halligan, said that even though she opposes the proposed project, the questions were intentionally difficult to answer in the negative. She said while the pollsters didn’t say who commissioned the survey, it became very obvious that the developers were behind it.

If it was a push poll, it may have backfired, as the Villager first reported.

“I don’t think they persuaded a single person,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation. “If anything, it probably has hardened their resolve in terms of their opposing the proposal and feeling that developers are going about this the wrong way.”

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David Lee, partner at Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, the firm that conducted the survey, said that the questions were intended to gauge public sentiment and that swaying respondents would be counterproductive.

“They didn’t try to force anyone to answer the questions in any particular way,” he said. “It does me no good to skew the answers. Then I wouldn’t be a very good pollster.”

Lee said he couldn’t provide details on the poll’s questions or answers, since those belong to the clients. The results, however, show that some of the questions were somewhat oblique. The poll showed that 64 percent of respondents support restoring and updating buildings on Gansevoort Street “to reflect their most historically significant periods.” A spokesperson for Aurora Capital, said that no specific time period was defined as significant.

“Gansevoort Street has a long, rich history defined by several periods of significance – not just the last few decades,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The proposed project reflects that history, restoring and preserving buildings that represent its recent history while updating others to evoke what stood in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the original open-air Gansevoort Market operated nearby. We believe this respect for history is the reason why local residents by a better than 4-1 margin support the project.”

Debate over the poll is the latest in a series of clashes between the developers and advocacy groups. Aurora and William Gottlieb plan to redevelop five buildings along the landmarked street, plans which include demolishing a one-story building at 70-74 Gansevoort Street to make way for an eight-story structure. The district recently formed its own Business Improvement District, whose board of directors consists of several property owners — including Aurora’s Jared Epstein. It’s not yet clear how often the BID will weigh in on controversial development projects. The BID’s director, Lauren Danziger, said the organization isn’t intended to act as a political force but is willing to consider projects on a case-by-case basis. As a group, the BID has largely stayed out of the Gansevoort Row debate.

Those who oppose the project have repeatedly argued that the height is out of step with a neighborhood’s shorter warehouses.

Elaine Young, a Community Board 2 member who is part of Save Gansevoort, said that the poll was an attempt by developers to “justify their position. “It’s really almost shameful that they would do this to find some basis to build this massive development,” she said.